Real Story: New Haven Mayoral Race – Toni Harp

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Al and Laurie talk with Toni Harp, the Democrat who won the mayoral primary in New Haven but will still face Justin Elicker, who is running as an independent candidate in the November general election.

Below is some information about Harp from Hartford Courant reports.

Toni Harp

As a 10-term state senator who represents half the city, Harp is known as a fighter.

At 66, she has been battling hard for years for the city and has raised three children — two daughters who became doctors and a son who is a lawyer. At the city’s Democratic convention, Harp told the story of how she learned the lesson that a person must keep fighting.

“It starts with a story of a little girl who contracted polio when she was four years old and had to spend a whole year breathing with the help of an iron lung,” Harp said. “A bulky, noisy machine surrounded her entire body for hours at a time and forced her to breathe by compressing and decompressing her lungs. Every breath was a struggle. Every breath was a fight. She wasn’t expected to live — and if she did, she wasn’t expected to walk again.”

Harp continued, “Thankfully, through the help of God, through the help of her doctors, the love of her parents, and her own resilience, she got better. And when she got out of that machine, she taught herself to walk again. This experience taught her not just how precious life is, but that, despite whatever challenges in life she might face, she would never allow anyone to define her by her circumstances and obstacles, but by her ability to overcome them.”

“I am that little girl,” Harp said as the crowd burst into an extended standing ovation and started cheering “Toni! Toni! Toni!”

After the speech, Harp acknowledged in an interview that many people were not aware of her battle with polio as a young girl in Salt Lake City, Utah. She said she had mentioned it occasionally during March of Dimes events in the past, but the story is not widely known at the state Capitol.

Raised in a community that was largely white and populated by Mormons, Harp was an African American Baptist who arrived in Utah because her father worked as a porter for the Santa Fe Railroad and her mother for Greyhound Bus Lines as a member of the Teamsters union.

Harp eventually came east to study for a master’s degree in architecture at Yale University in New Haven, where she raised her children with her husband, Wendell, whose business dealings have become a key issue in the campaign.

The Harp family real estate business, known as Renaissance Management Co., owes the state more than $1 million in business taxes and is the largest tax delinquent in Connecticut. Harp said she had an agreement with her husband that she would not get involved in his business dealings, and he would not get involved in her politics. Despite criticism from the other candidates, Harp said she knew little about her husband’s business, which is now operated by her son.

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